The Engaged Department Institute and the
California State University
Progress, Process and Challenges
Lori J. Vogelgesang & Kimberly Misa
Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA
Center for Service Learning Research and Dissemination
The director of the Office of Community Service Learning in the
California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Office invited
us to complement the current assessment work done at Campus Compact’s
Engaged Department Institute by conducting some evaluation research
for a special 2001 session of the institute for CSU campus departments
and community partners. This study examines how the participant
teams fared in the year following the Institute, as they returned
to campus to try to implement learning from the Institute. Teams
consisted of the department chair, 2-3 faculty members, and a community
partner. Some teams also included the campus service-learning director.
The study relies on data collected through a survey of faculty and
staff Institute participants, structured telephone interviews with
community partners, and in-depth case studies of two departmental
teams. Thirty-one of the 42 participants (74%) responded to the
anonymous paper-and-pencil survey conducted about 6 months after
the summer institute, and eight of the nine community partners attending
the institute participated in interviews. The site visits for the
case studies took place nearly one year after the summer institute.
Faculty & Administrator Survey
The survey we constructed for this project asked people to share
their perceptions of various aspects of the work of the “engaged
department” team and of their department in the first six
months following the Institute. The survey responses indicate that
the area in which participants feel their teams have made the most
progress is in enhancing individual and departmental familiarity
with service learning. This was true whether the department was
perceived as unfamiliar with service learning prior to the institute,
or already had some awareness. Most respondents felt their team
was ‘on track’ about six months after the institute;
those that that weren’t on track cited reasons such as lack
of time, the need for a project coordinator, or needing to develop
relationships with a community partner. A few people felt their
teams were exceeding their own expectations, and the reasons given
included being able to offer more service learning courses than
planned, establishing a resource center, and securing outside funding.
Evaluation of service learning and engagement efforts are lower
priorities for these teams, as reflected in fewer than half the
respondents identifying these as goal areas. Some teams might view
evaluation as an area that “can wait” while they give
attention to areas seen as more important in these early stages.
Since evaluation is not seen as a goal area by most, it is not surprising
to see that progress in evaluation efforts is coming slowly too.
Similarly, integrating service learning into faculty review processes
remains difficult. This, too, is not surprising given that only
about six months elapsed since the Institute. One would expect that
evaluation, and integration of service into the reward processes,
as indicators of institutionalization, will come more slowly than
will raising awareness and support. Even within the CSU system,
the degree to which service learning is ‘counted’ in
the faculty review process varies among campuses.
Participants indicated the degree to which different sources and
resources supported their work toward becoming more engaged. There
was no single source of support (such as the faculty, the dean,
the department head, the disciplinary association) that emerged
as particularly powerful. Rather, participants identified multiple
sources of support for each of their goals. The exception was in
the areas that pertained to evaluation and integration of this work
into the faculty reward structure; for these areas no sources of
support were identified.
We also examined the degree to which resources such as leave time
and printed resources to support becoming a more engaged department
were available at each institution. The most common source of support
among those listed is on-campus professional development opportunities,
with nearly all respondents saying it is at least a minor support.
Frequently, these on-campus opportunities (such as a campus-wide
Service Learning Fellows program) are coordinated by a service learning
office. Printed resources and administrative support appear to be
available – and of at least some support – to most respondents,
and off-campus training is seen as a support by two-thirds of the
respondents. Leave time is not a typical form of support, with about
60% of respondents saying it is not available/not a support.
Finally, we asked participants of the CSU Engaged Department Institute
whether they felt that their department faculty colleagues were
aware of the resources available through the CSU Service Learning
Curriculum and Infrastructure Development Initiative. It is important
to keep in mind that funds distributed through the Chancellor’s
office are made available to faculty on each CSU campus, but each
campus has developed its own plan for how to make funds available
to faculty. The availability of service learning minigrants is clearly
the resource best known to faculty, with 30.8% of respondents indicating
that faculty in their department were quite knowledgeable about
this resource, and an additional 38.5% saying their colleagues were
somewhat aware. Participants also think their colleagues are aware
of conferences, but less than half of the respondents believe there
is knowledge among their colleagues of the scholarships offered
through the Chancellor’s initiative.
Community Partner Telephone Interviews
The types of organizations as well as strength of relationship with
the university partners varies greatly among teams. In several cases
the partnership didn’t exist last June, and/ or no longer
exists, in other cases the partnership is seen as quite strong and
mutually beneficial. The department teams are partnering with small
social service agencies, county organizations, public schools and
other non-profits. In some cases a faculty member initiated the
contact, in others the community agency approached the university.
Despite the wide range of partnerships, several common issues emerged.
Almost all of the community partners felt that the institute was
valuable because it allowed team members to become further acquainted
with one another, and it facilitated a planning process by structuring
time together. Several partners commented that the institute provided
an opportunity for them to form a relationship with the department,
or at least with individual faculty members beyond the one person
they had known prior to participating in the institute. Challenges
to a strong partnership, according to community partners, include
finding time to meet faculty partners in person, and following up
on the work of the institute in general.
The case studies resulted in many interesting findings contextualized
by the individual campus and community cultures of Humboldt State
University and California State University, Fullerton. Here we present
only the overall themes that emerged from both campuses.
- One person can actually play a very influential role in galvanizing
a critical mass.
- The Engaged Department Institute provided leverage –
both teams have moved from having T-H-E service learning person
to having a critical amount of buy-in from the department.
- The Institute helped to strengthen the support of the departmental
chair – they have a better understanding of reflection and
connecting course material to experience.
- Dialogue among faculty around what it means to be an engaged
department has deepened faculty conversations around what they
want students to learn.
- Both teams have connected the work of the institute to larger
goals of the department.
- Teams want to take advantage of personnel transitions in departments
to recruit and hire faculty interested in community-based work.
- The broader academic culture is seen as a barrier to junior
faculty involvement in both departments; at one institution the
standards for reward mirror the larger culture, but at the other
university the faculty reward supports this work.
- This work continues to be underfunded.
- Departments are not (yet) implementing evaluation.
The work of departments to become more engaged in their communities
bears much resemblance to other forms of change within the academy.
We have learned from other research that faculty need to be committed
and feel a part of any change effort, and indeed department teams
seem to recognize this as they pay attention to that buy-in first.
We have seen varying levels of support for engagement work in institutional
reward processes for faculty, but nonetheless there appears a committed
core group of faculty who will do this work because it is of intrinsic
value to them; they also support changing the faculty rewards process.
Finally, though some teams are making progress, they express very
clearly the need for continued support from all sources, in order
that their efforts can continue.